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ECONOMICS OF GEOGRAPHY
From time immemorial, societies have always located near water bodies. The primary
reason attributable to this scenario is the fact that water enables more active travel compared to
going over land. Waterways have always been of great importance to the transportation of people
and goods throughout the world from ancient times. However, sea alone cannot meet all the
human needs in transport and therefore it has to be used alongside land or air to make the
transport system more efficient. The complex transport network connects coastal ports, rail, and
truck routes. This system of interconnections is what forms the foundation of material economic
wealth worldwide (McGuire 88).
The history of goods transportation is closely linked to the history of civilization. The
ancient form of trade was barter, and therefore movement of commodities from one place to
another was critical. Eight hundred years ago is a very long time and much of the transport
system in the world today had not been developed. Movement of goods and people was very
difficult, and trading perishable goods was close to impossible. Transportation of animals was
challenging, and the early means of transport only favored durable goods. The human desire to
create a reliable transport system to facilitate movement of people and goods is directly related to
humanitys ultimate transition from a nomadic existence of hunters and gatherers to the
sedentary life of an agrarian society (Paine 33).

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The evolution and emergence of major ancient and modern cities and human settlement
can be attributed to comparative advantages of the location with respect to trade. The
comparative advantage was due to ease of people and goods movement to trade centers with
respect to other relevant areas. The parts explored in this paper are on major transportation
technology that facilitated the trade for the last eight hundred years. Transportation systems made
tremendous shifts in the business institutions that led to extensive changes to the structure of
goods transport than original technological change.
Prehistory of transportation
For the first two million years of human existence, societies were primitive and
composed only of hunters and gatherers living a subsistence life. As humans continued to evolve,
human power, on foot was the only mode to transport life necessities to where they were needed.
The early nomad human tribes did not have to carry food and water over a long distance since
they were just located along river banks or oasis. They also moved along with food and water
sources they shifted over a long distance until the need to find water and food arose again. As
human civilization led to agrarian, agricultural settlements was established near lakes and rivers
with fresh waters (Paine 67). Water served two primary economic needs; it was an absolute
necessity for growing crops and sustaining human lives. Moreover, water offered increasing
mobility to expanding sedentary communities.
The development of early human civilization dependent upon water sources was
complimentary with the first crucial revolution in goods transportation. The water-borne
movement was on the rise, and it had predated agrarian society. Societies were living adjacent to
water bodies built rafts that they used for fishing over a reasonable distance over water. The rafts

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were peddled using human power. Sail ships also supplemented waterborne travel, and it
enhanced fisheries and hunting experiences. The invention of sail ships is estimated to have
occurred 2000BC in Polynesian in eastern Asia. The society used sails to move around enormous
bodies of water to trade.
The invention of the wheel that was attached to a cart by Sumerians radically transformed
the early nomadic societies. Trade goods could now be loaded onto large domesticated animals
like camels, donkeys, horses and oxen. Wheel invention also changed the nature of human
existence. In the first instance, the wheel led to the building of large wagons that could carry
more goods than were necessary for the well-being of the traders. The wheel further led to
another human transition from mere subsistence to a barter economy (Smil 18). With the
wheeled carts that were either pulled by humans or animals, people could grow more crops than
they needed themselves. This is what led to barter trade with other individuals for other food or
materials. The greatest barrier to the use of the wheeled cart for business was that the system
needed much more efficiently if a smooth dirt or stone trail was available.
Romans handled the development of identifiable road network to facilitate movement
throughout the growing empire. They were also the first human civilization to use more efficient
means of land transport in the form of horses and mules on a widespread basis. During the
Roman era, there was an effective movement of goods by boats and oar via a network of
navigable waterways of Europe and Asia. The Roman transport system also allowed a messenger
service that facilitated good communication throughout the empire.
Transport network stagnation characterized the middle ages and the development of trade
economies in Europe. The middle ages in Europe due to some reasons. The first reason is that the

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road network throughout Europe was based upon the old Roman Empire paths. Secondly, road
constructions activities were very costly than the value of the goods transported. The major
transportation technology breakthrough of the time was the development of draft harnesses that
were borrowed from Chinese Empire. The draft allowed horses to pull heavier loads more
efficiently. Therefore, animals could perform labor for longer times.
During the European rule by Roman Empire, inland canals in some parts of Europe had
been developed mostly for military needs. As the efficiency of land transport over travel by water
became apparent, some of the inland canals systems were reestablished. In the early 1100s,
England had functional inland canal systems. Further, in the middle of the thirteenth century, a
more commercially viable inland canal system was created in the Po River Valley in Italy. Cogs
(small ships) were used to transport bulk goods over these canals.
The middle age era also says the development of human society beyond tribal classes into
states and cities. The legal institutions to protect property rights were still uncommon. Traders
still had the fear of moving goods over a long distance since they could be seized. Merchants had
a personal obligation of protecting their goods as they moved from settlement to settlement. The
frequent seizures were carried out by robbers, noblemen, and kings and to them it was a common
way of life. The England land and water transportation system was taxed and protected by the
monarch. Merchant compliance with this process ensured that trade throughout England was
carried out in relative safety compared to continental Europe.
The ports and harbors acted as collection points for payments by the merchant for the
right to conduct maritime trade in the England Kingdom. Tolls were efficiently collected over
well-established routes of inland waterways. The same practice was replicated in Asia.

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Waterborne transport was thus subject to repeated tolling, and this made it a very expensive
mode of transportation. The numbers of tolling centers were rising rapidly such that by 1500
there were over sixty tolls along Rhine River alone. The standard commodities that were carried
by water were grains and salt since they were bulk. However, due to the tolls, the cost of paying
fees could even exceed twelve times the value of cargo in transit.
Police often had difficulty in controlling violence and seizure of assets over the water
bodies. In some places in Europe, water piracy was sanctioned by the European states that were
developing. Venice rose to become a trade hub due piracy being under control. However, over a
long distance in large water bodies, it was had to be monitored, and it was thus riskier for
merchants. Merchants who engaged in longer voyages, their freight capacity had to be traded off
against the addition of crew to ward off the attack. Another way to ward off attack was through
organized freights, but the problem with such an arrangement was logistical challenges. Sailing
ships of the time were difficult to maneuver and thus hard to keep in a convoy. Wars were a
frequent occurrence and these often disrupted voyages.
Transportation in the pre-industrial era (pre the 1800s)The process of globalization is
closely linked to transportation. Efficient movement of freight and people has always been an
important element for maintaining the cohesion of economic systems from empires to modern
nation-states and economic blocs. With transportation technological advancements prior 1960s, it
was possible to move cargo and people more efficiently, faster and in large volumes long
distances. The section will be split into four parts to discuss technological advancements in the
transport sector; the pre-industrial times, the industrial revolution era, Fordism, and postFordism.

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Prior to the critical technical transformations brought forth by industrial revolution at the
end of the eighteenth century, there were no forms of motorized transportation that was in
existence. As already mentioned above, traffic was mainly limited to harnessing animal labor for
land transport and the wind for marine and inland transportation. Both the quantity transported,
and speed of traffic was very limited. Some of the ancient civilizations that developed along the
rivers include Tigris-Euphrates, Nile, Indus, Huang He and The Ganges. The international trade
of the time only involved precious goods such as silk, ornaments, spices and wine.
The reduced efficiency of land transport limited the scope of most trades to be local.
Economies that were based on autonomy and mere substance could not generate much business.
The location of ancient cities was strategic. This ensured that such cities took advantage of the
defensible of commercial advantage. The trade of perishable agricultural products was limited to
a radius of about fifty kilometers at most. Walking around the cities was uncommon given the
inherent limitation of human speed. The famous cities such as Venice, Rome, and Beijing never
exceeded twenty square kilometers. The only cities that had a population of over one-hundred
thousand were few, and it was due to maritime and land trade networks.
Prior to the industrialization era, there were very few urban systems. Rather, there were
only sets of relatively self-sufficient economic systems with the very limited trade. Shipping of
commodities from one place to another was difficult and this further limited trade. Roman and
Chinese had done exceptionally well to revolutionize their transport systems, and this ensured
that they were able to control extensive territory for a long time. For the case of Romans, the
Empire grew an intricate network of coastal shipping and roads. The Roman road network
interconnected a set of large towns around the Mediterranean basin. Consequently, the Roman

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Empire was able to trade with India and China. The Chinese Empire built an efficient water
transport system by interconnecting artificial canals to form a Grand Canal.
The economic benefits and geopolitics of transportation were recognized early enough
especially the maritime transport system. Shipping was the most convenient way to move freight
and passengers around. Some of the great ancient empires were established with the marine
transportation network. The early ships were commonly peddled and later sailing ships propelled
by the wind were developed but as a complementary form of propulsion. Shipping also helped
ease movement of bulk goods such as salt, timber, and grains. The advent of the fourteenth
century saw galleys being replaced with fully fledged sail ships. The sail ships were smaller and
required the fewer crew to be on board. The Portuguese discovered the trade winds in 1431 on
North Atlantic, and this increased the usage of sail ships. A similar discovery of monsoon winds
was made in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, the trade channel was disrupted, and
merchants had to find alternative routes from Europe to Asia. One of the prominent ways was
Vasco de Gama made the one that was followed by Columbus in 1492 (sail to the West) and the
other in 1497 to the East. While Vasco da Gama found a route to India through the Cape Town,
Columbus landed on the American continent. European colonization and exploration soon
followed the discoveries by Columbus and Vasco da Gama. Initially, it was by Spain and
Portugal but they were later joined by Britain, Netherlands and France. Europe was now able to
master maritime and built better efficient ships and thus they could control international trade
and colonization. Dutch East India Company handled establishing trading networks that spanned
the world. In the early 18th century, most of the worlds territories were under European rule.

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The vast area provided wealth and markets to thriving metropolis through a system of colonial
trade.
Pre-industrial revolution ear was dominated by a small quantity of freight that was
transported between nations. In fact, compared to todays cargo shipment, they are negligible.
There was mercantilism between the 15th and 18th, but it only improved the volume but not the
speed of trade. The payments along the inland transportation were so high, and it frustrated many
traders. The European permission of bulk movement of cargo along the inland ways expanded
regional trade. Maritime and fluvial transportation dominated the pre-industrial era as the
dominant mode of transportation.
The industrial revolution and transportation (1800-1870) Critical series of changes took
place in Europe that would later transform the worlds economic, political and technological
landscape. The changes are what later came to be known as industrial revolution. Four factors are
attributable to the industrial age. The first factor is the scientific method that evoked a rational
approach to the laws of nature and formalization of technical professions such as physics,
chemistry, and engineering. The process in turn fostered several significant innovations and the
application of these innovations. The second factor is the property right. The Democratic
institutions were strengthened, and private ownership was protected. Property owners had a good
representation in elected legislature, and capital accumulation was able to expand. The third
driver was capital markets. Bank and other financial institutions grew and were able to gather
capital pools and invest them in economic ventures. The emergence of financial institutions was
becoming increasingly rational and institutionalized. The last and most crucial factor was
communication and transport infrastructure. The markets could interact more freely due to the

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setting of mechanized transport systems that supported the distribution of resources and setting
up of comparative advantages.
The majority of technical innovations took place between 1760 and 1800. The transport
modification system occurred in two faces. The first took place in the development of canal
systems while the second was centered along railways. The same period was marked by the
development of the steam engine. The steam engine was an external combustion engine that
converted thermal energy into mechanical energy that propelled trains and ships. The first steam
engine was developed in 1765, but it was used to pump water out of mines. The first selfpropelled steam engine was developed by Cugnot (French engineer). The first mechanically
propelled an American inventor Flitch built a maritime vehicle in 1790, and it was used as a
method of transport on the Delaware River. Early 1800 were marked by the manufacturer of
steamboats. These events now marked a new era where mechanization of land and maritime
transport system.
Ground transportation was not readily developed due to the well-established inland
transportation. Most of the roads were unpaved, and this made it hard to carry heavy loads.
Inland distribution system was unable to accommodate the growing quantities of raw materials
and finished goods, and this is what prompted Europeans to rethink about the roads. In the era of
horse-drawn carts, a road economy was very disadvantageous to merchants. Bulk commodities
could be transported over a given distance but at a very slow, costly and inefficient manner. For
example, four horses could pull a wagon weighing one ton for just twelve miles a day along an
ordinary road.

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England and the United States were among the emerging economies that built a set of
freight shipping canals. England built Bridgewater Canal I 1761 while the United States built
Erie Canal in 1825. The canals made use of locks to overcome elevation challenges. Thus, they
could efficiently link different parts of fluvial systems into a comprehensive waterway system.
Specialization and economies of scale (the foundation of modern industrial production) became
widely applicable in the fluvial canals. Canal network was constrained by geographical location
and physical obstacles. Technological advancement in the second half of the nineteenth century
made the canal era short lived.
Railway system first appeared in 1814. Coal was used to heat water that produced steam
that was used to propel trains. Merchants readily welcomed the railway transport since by the use
of steam engine on smooth rails required less power and could carry heavier loads. The first rail
system that linked Manchester and Liverpool were built in 1830 and stretched over a distance of
sixty-five kilometers. The tracks soon became famous in Europe and developed countries and
national systems were also developed. One benefit of rail transport was speed since a train could
travel at a speed of thirty to forty kilometers per hour which was like three times the rate of
Stagecoach services. The railway system required massive resources and many governments left
its constructions to the hands of private sector. Nevertheless, there was public involvement when
it came to loans and land grants.
The grants included the right of way, building, maintenance and operating costs. By early
1850s, railways were changing the structure of the society. Towns began to emerge along the
railroads add access to resources and markets were better than the past ages. In the 1850s, a
railway stretching over 10,000km was already functional in England while North America was
constructing its first ever rail system. Standard railway time was adopted to ensure that there was

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a smooth operation of the trains. There modern Greenwich Mean Time was created as the
standard reference time in 1855.Railroads offered an efficient inland transport system that was
very flexible in its spatial coverage and it could also carry bulkier loads. The canals collapsed
since they were unable to compete with the railways. In North America, railroads reduced
transport time for passengers who were traveling over a long distance. For instance, moving from
New York to Chicago initially took three weeks but with railway system passengers could take a
maximum of three days. The railroads thus closely linked many cities thus further favoring
specialization and economies of scale (Montgomery and Alok Kumar 67). The railroads were
also responsible for opening the eastern parts of the United States a vast pool or new agricultural
resources. Canada built trans-Canada railway while Russia developed trans-Siberian railway in
1904.International transportation in the 19th century was improved after the establishment of
first maritime routes that linked harbors across the world. However, active transportation was
mainly between America and Europe. Composite ships were built and were partly used in the
trade between Europe and America until they were phased out. There Savannah was the first
steamship that closed the Atlantic, and it took twenty-nine days to link Liverpool and New York.
Helix replaced the manual paddles, and transatlantic passengers transport steamships started in
1838. Steam engines were still undergoing development and each generation of the steam
engines permitted longer and safer voyages. By the late 19th century, steamships were the
dominant mode of maritime transport.
The emergence of modern transportation systems (1870-1920) the end of the 19th century
marked a shift from steam engines to oil as new propulsion mode. Inventors started experiments
on engines that could be propelled by oil. Oil increased the speed of ships and trains as well as
maritime capacity. Further, oil reduced energy consumption by ships by a factor of ninety percent

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of the coal that was earlier used. The construction of Suez Canal made Asia and Australia more
accessible than before. Diesel was the typical oil that propelled engines. Due to more power of
petroleum, larger ships were built resulting in massive voyages and increased transportation of
goods across the world. More harbors and docks were constructed to cater for rapidly increasing
shipments. Regular international passenger transport services were started in the 1880s and
dominated up to 1950s after which air transportation became the dominant mode.
The diesel engine era marked an era in which railway transport systems blossomed to
become the premier transport mode for freight and passengers. Diesel engines increased speed
and locomotive power above one-hundred kilometers per hour. As the commodity market was
expanded, railroads became specialized for the transport of either passenger or freight. The
railway transportation seemed to have reached maturity phase by the early 20th century.
With time passage and many European countries underwent demographic transitions that
resulted in rapid population growth and migration pressures. The growth of urban population
favored the constructions of public urban transport systems (Montgomery and Alok Kumar 45).
Tramways were introduced in Western Europe and America, and they profoundly improved the
urban transport system. They were also responsible for economic specialization between the
workplace and residence. The development of bicycles in 1863 was an important innovation that
changed the urban transport in the late 19th century. The rich initially used bicycles for leisure,
but the working class adopted them as a cheap and reliable mode of transportation.
Development in telecommunications also marked the industrial era. The telegraph
replaced messengers, and it was the first reliable method of communication that interconnected
many markets. There United States was the first country to build telegraph lines that opened a

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new era of information transmission after it was completed. In 1866, the first intercontinental
telegraph network was developed. The growth of telecommunication is intertwined with the
growth of railways and international shipping. Telegraphic communications made it easier to
manage continental transport systems. Many countries built railroads and telegraph lines
concurrently.
Harbor crane technology is another technology that made a tremendous impact on
maritime transportation. The first harbor crane was built during the middle Ages, and it was a
stationary crane at the harbor powered by treadwheels. The Romans and Greeks, however, did
not use the crane since they had enough reservoirs of saves that they were exploiting.
Commercial use of harbor cranes first appeared in Flanders, Holland and Germany in the 13th
century. In England, harbor cranes date back to the 14th century. With harbor cranes in place,
offloading and loading of ships was made easy. Crane technologies continued to evolve such that
by the 1600s a crane that allowed horizontal movement of the lead was built.
The 19th century was marked by the creation of iron cranes instead of wood. Iron made
the cranes stronger and efficient. In 1824, the iron rope was invented that made it safe to offload
and load heavy cargo. The first steam powered crane was developed in 1851, and it redefined the
future of the cranes. Subsequent generations of the cranes used the mechanical power that
reduced the loading time. More cargo could be loaded and offloaded, and maritime transportation
became friendlier to merchants.
Conclusion
Transportation has undergone tremendous changes from ancient times. It started with
walking and running since human needs were still limited at that time. Necessity prompted

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humanity to seek better means to satisfy their wants. As the population increased, the available
means of transport needed expansion and in some cases it needed to be replaced. Every
discovery was a giant footstep to the future of better transport system. The importance of
investing rafts is the same as that of discovering steam ships.
The dominant modes of transportation from ancient times have always been landed and
water. However, none of the methods is more efficient on its own, and the two modes are thus
complementary. Most of advanced transport technologies took place in the late 19th century and
early 20th century. Discovery of steam engines was one bit of bit, but nothing can defeat the
invention of oil engines. With diesel propelled engines, speed was significantly improved, and
more cars developed. Also, diesel engines handled the emergence of the aviation industry
(Nebeker 44).
Major transportation technologies were invented in Europe. However, with the discovery
of America by Columbus, a lot of technological inventions were made by the United States.
When a new transport technology was discovered, it was quickly replicated in other nations. A
good example is railway which quickly spread from Europe to America. Also, colonization led to
spread of transport technologies in new continent such as Africa. Colonials mainly relied on rails
to transport goods to various destinations. As transport technologies continue to evolve, more
sophisticated modes are emerging to make transport easier and faster.

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Work cited
Montgomery, Scott L and Alok Kumar . A History of Science in World Cultures: Voices of
Knowledge Paperback. Routledge, 2015.
Paine, Lincoln. The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World. n.d.
Smil, Vicla. Prime Movers of Globalization: The History and Impacts of Diesel Engines and Gas
Turbines . The MIT Press, 2013.

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McGuire, Michael J. The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. ,
2013. Print.
Nebeker, Frederik. Dawn of the Electronic Age: Electrical Technologies in the Shaping of the
Modern World, 1914 to 1945. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley, 2009. Internet resource.